Tag Archives: Georgia Heard

I’m sorry, Ms. Heard

I am supposed to be writing about my writing space
but the snow is melting so fast
I think I can hear it.
The sun is moving west over the mountain
and its light is golden on the
winter-browned and tangled grass.
The breeze is blowing the oak tree’s branches
and the tips of them are a reddish brown
waiting to push out their new leaves.
The water is running in rivulets down the drive
and along the road; it puddles in low spots
and forms a rapid through the culvert.
At first glance, everything is destruction,
but a closer look reveals the swelling buds
that will be peach blossoms.

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Inner Critic

“What makes you think you have anything new to say?”
“That’s not interesting to anyone but you.”
“No one’s listening to you.”

“You have no culinary training; anyone can read a recipe; you’re not doing anything anyone else can’t do.”

Here’s the thing:
That inner critic is really, really loud. It yammers on constantly, and is especially loud whenever I “put myself out there” in a vulnerable way, like with writing or starting a personal chef service. It is reinforced by every negative comment someone makes, intentional or not. It’s a hungry beast that feeds on every idea I have, sometimes turning them to bloodied corpses before they even get past vague thoughts.

I really, really fucking hate the inner critic. There are days it’s so loud, I just want to scream so I can drown it out. But then it reminds me that random screaming isn’t socially acceptable.

For as non-rule-following as I can be, my inner critic is hyper aware of what’s acceptable, what’s “normal,” and what could make me stand out in an undesirable way. I am walking proof that women absorb the messages sent in commercials, magazines, classrooms, etc. One of the loudest voices is about my weight. What the hell does weight have to do with gardening well, writing well, or trying to start a new business? Absolutely nothing, but our culture has told me that my weight makes me less-than, and that attitude creeps insidiously into every corner of what goes on in my head.

At the same time, every other part of me is shrieking, “I DON’T CARE!” If this is what other women experience, then it really isn’t so surprising that stepping outside the normal boundaries of what has been seen as acceptable has sent so many women around the bend. To look at everything society says we should be, and then reject the bits that just don’t fit, takes chasm-jumping confidence. Being ourselves, as every motivational speaker says we should be, is just not as easy as that trite, two-word saying makes it sound.

But the cost of not being who I am is too dear. And so when the inner critic gets too loud, I have to make it go away. I tell it to fuck off. (Lady-like isn’t one of the socially acceptable things I’m particularly concerned with being.) I get absorbed in something else: a book, a recipe, the garden. Idle hands aren’t only the devil’s work, they’re also a cue for that inner critic to start its monologue. The busier I am, especially if I’m doing something I love, the easier it is to tune that voice out. It may be loud when I start, but as I get more involved, the voice gets quieter and quieter, and then fades away entirely.

In a recent post on the blog Orangette, Molly Wizenberg referenced the NPR show “Invisibilia,” and an episode on fear. There is discussion of the equation that thinking + time=fear. The truth of that whacked me so hard on the head that I had to laugh. It might not be true for everyone, but it sure is for me. That fear is my inner critic doing its thing.

I didn’t look forward to this exercise in Heard’s book when I read about it this morning. Because who’s interested in reading about my emo-inner voice, right? But I decided to tell that inner voice to fuck off, and here I am.

And here’s this morning’s sunrise. Thrilled to have been awake for it.
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The “Poetry Inside Us All”

Still following along with Georgia Heard. I didn’t quite follow directions…but those who know me probably aren’t surprised.

The Fox

Yesterday, a fox ran by the bay window
where I sat at my computer.
He was a tawny-beige,
black legs, black ears and
a black tuft where his body and tail met.
His tail was lighter, almost blonde,
with a circle of fur stripped away.
Thin and furtive, he moved with no hurry
stopping to sniff the patch of grass where
a bird lost a fight last fall.
I moved from window to window
to follow him, startled
by how close he was to the house.
Winter has been a deep freeze for weeks,
with more clouds than sun.
Watching him, I imagine that
we feel the same hunger.

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Not the best photo…but here’s the fox!

Pockets of home

I’m re-reading Georgia Heard’s book Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way, to try and jump-start my writing each morning. Her first chapter is about querencia, which is the Spanish idea of “a place where one feels safe, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home.” It took some thought to land where I did, drifting first over the places where I’ve lived with my parents and other family, through bookstores, and around the house in New York, but none of them felt quite right.

I realized that’s because I feel most at home in the kitchen and the garden and the classroom. I am in control—though I know that to some extent, that control is an illusion—in those spaces. A cutting board of ingredients, a tangle of weeds , a group of young faces—I know what to do with all of these. I relish the challenge and the familiarity they simultaneously provide. My sense of querencia is directly affected by how capable I feel in these spaces. Any kitchen, any garden, any classroom can make me feel like I am in my safe space.

While I love trying new recipes, and my wall of cookbooks can attest to that, my favorite cooking is intuitive. What do I have in the refrigerator? A small cabbage, parmesan cheese, some corn, a pound of ground beef? In the pantry I have canned tomatoes, garlic, onions, and elbow pasta. I pile them all on the counter in front of me and begin the chopping: halve the cabbage through its core, insert the knife point into the top of the cabbage’s core and cut down to the base, enjoying the cool slice-and-crunch sound it makes. Repeat on the other side of the core, and then repeat with the other half of the cabbage. Pop out the core and begin the rhythmic slicing into thin ribbons, the clack of the knife on the cutting board making a soothing pattern of sound.

By the time I have made the ingredients their appropriate sizes, I know I’m going to make a soup. There’s no broth, but that doesn’t matter. Water will pull the flavor it needs from the vegetables, and dried herbs– bay, thyme, peppercorns—will help tie things together.

In the garden, the smell of the soil under my hands is a subtle scent on a dry day and more pungent after a rain. I set out with a list of chores, but once I run my hands over the sage and dust my shirt with yellow pollen as I walk through the tomatoes that list becomes a vague sense of, “I should…”. The smells of the garden addle my brain. I stop where I am and attend to what needs doing right there and then. This tomato needs tying up, that section needs weeding, those beans need picking. Hours later, I mentally surface and find that I’ve completed most of the things I planned to do and have forgotten some. I have also forgotten to stop for lunch. I achieve total focus—in a strangely unfocused way–in a garden in a way I seem unable to find in other places.

The classroom is a different kind of home, though there is some overlap. I always had a list of things to do, but when dealing with adolescent humans that list could be side-tracked easily. Sometimes, we had to deal with misconceptions that arose, and other times, we had to follow where a student’s connecting idea led. Sometimes, we stuck to the list. Regardless of what happened, the interplay of words and laughter and furrowed brows as we all puzzled through and thought about new things gave me a sense of contentment. Watching the unfolding of learning on student faces—it could show up in a face that went suddenly, completely still with wonder; in the quirk of an eyebrow; in an actual shout of, “Oh my god, I get it!”—was the reason I knew no other job on the planet could be as important.

Leaving that last home has been hard, and perhaps its absence is why there have been many days since last June that I felt adrift. There have been many spaces in my new life where I haven’t felt skilled, and at 43, feeling unskilled leaves me less comfortable than it did at 23 or 33. It has been more challenging since winter began, which means the garden ended. To an extent, we carry home within us, but when we are disconnected from the actual place of home, calling it up inside of us is sometimes a poor substitute. I am learning that I have to make new pockets of home, teach myself new capabilities, so that on the unsettled days I can reach a hand into a pocket and wrap my fingers around its comforts, like a smooth, rounded stone that fits just so in the palm.